DUBLIN ARABIC FILM FESTIVAL (DAFF) AT THE IRISH FILM INSTITUTE! I AM NOJOOM, AGE 10 AND DIVORCED. 2014. YEMEN- UNITED ARAB EMIRATES- FRANCE. DIRECTED BY KHADIJA AL-SALAMI. STARRING REHAM MOHAMMED. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
My favourite place in the world (after my own home!) is the Irish Film Institute on Eustace Street, right in the heart of Temple Bar. I’ve spent many a blissful hour here, watching some of my best-loved old films as well as plenty of thought-provoking new stuff.
This year (2015), the IFI hosted the Dublin Arabic Film Festival, or DAFF, from November the 13th to November the 15th. A lot of exciting movies are currently being produced in the Arab-speaking nations. Five films were featured in the festival in all, and I’m only sorry I couldn’t attend all five. The films were THE PROPHET, DOLPHINS, CAIRO TIME, THE IDOL and I AM NOJOOM, AGE 10 AND DIVORCED.
I watched I AM NOJOOM, AGE 10 AND DIVORCED on a Sunday lunchtime in a nearly-full theatre. When the film ended, the appreciative audience burst into spontaneous applause. That hardly ever happens, due no doubt to the repressed nature of Irish audiences in general…! It should show you how good the film was, haha, that a bunch of Irish folks who’d normally rather die than express themselves in public actually went out of their way to show their approval.
The film tells the story of a Yemeni girl called Nojoom, whose name means ‘stars.’ Her father, however, who was hoping for a boy, prefers to call her by her alternative name of Nojood, which means ‘hidden.’
This should give you an insight into the way that girls are viewed in Nojoom’s culture. They are a liability, a disappointment and a burden. Although they are made to do housework and farm labour from an early age, they are only really considered useful to their fathers when they can be given away in marriage at as early an age as possible.
This is the fate of Nojoom, who is sold by her father for financial reasons to a grown man when she is only ten. She is ripped from the bosom of her family and taken to the home of a man she has never met. She never even undergoes a wedding ceremony. She is given a ring to wear which she sells on her ‘wedding day.’
She uses the money to buy a beautiful doll with eyes that open and close. That’s what she should be doing, playing with dolls. She’s so happy with the doll, it only highlights the awfulness of what we know is going to happen. The doll is torn from her by her mother-in-law after the wedding, a symbol of Nojoom’s lost childhood.
The way in which Nojoom is arranged to be married seemed to deeply affect the audience. Her dad has a chat with the new husband and some other men outside the mosque. They throw raisins in a ritual that seals the deal and that’s that. The whole thing takes less than five minutes. That’s how long it takes, apparently, for a young girl’s destiny to be signed, sealed and delivered, and all without her knowledge or consent.
Nojoom’s wedding day is frightening to the viewer, so I can’t even imagine what it must have been like to go through it for real, and as a ten-year-old child as well. Nojoom is taken by car to her husband’s village. Her husband and another man ignore her completely on the journey, preferring to chat among themselves and chew the green leaves known as ‘qat’ that they seem to enjoy.
When they reach the husband Adel’s village, they are greeted by dozens of men, all carrying guns or knives and all with cheeks bulging with ‘qat.’ While Najoom is taken inside by the women and shown where she will live from now on, the men dance outside with guns and knives while ominously beating their drums.
The wedding night is a nightmare for Nojoom. She is in bed trying to sleep when her husband comes in and brutally rapes her, with a few slaps thrown in for good measure. She seems to have no idea at all what is happening to her, no knowledge of sex between a man and a woman, though as she hasn’t even reached puberty yet, she can hardly be called a woman.
She’s a badly-frightened child, and her days aren’t any better than her nights. Her mother-in-law works her like a slave and condones and even encourages the violence her son uses to try to control Nojoom.
When Nojoom complains to her parents, her mother urges her to accept her ‘destiny’ as a woman and her father doesn’t want the shame of having a daughter who doesn’t accede to her husband’s wishes. Eventually, Nojoom decides she can’t take the abuse any more. In an almost unheard-of move, she decides she wants a divorce…
The Yemeni countryside is breathtakingly beautiful, though also barren and bleak in places. One of the most stunning scenes in the film is in the beginning, when a curly-haired, pretty little Nojoom sits on her father’s shoulders while he picks coffee beans in the glorious sunshine and sings a song about the Lord’s love. She has little or no idea what’s in store for her as she grows up.
Nojoom must privately wonder too as she grows older where this God is who’s supposed to love her and look after her. The scene where she’s banging her head repeatedly off a wall in her husband’s house is particularly upsetting.
I was sadder than I can tell you about the scene in which the rape of Nojoom’s elder sister by a neighbour’s son is dealt with by the Sheik of the tribe. The rapist’s family is ordered to pay two bulls to the girl’s father as restitution. Two bulls. Okay, well, that’s the dad sorted, but what about the violated girl…?
Oh yes. I nearly forgot. She’s forced to marry her rapist to save her family’s honour and her own, although her own father will forever look upon her as ‘soiled goods.’ Well, that’s that sorted too, so…
This is a powerful film. No wonder it was a major prize-winner at last year’s Dubai International Film Festival. Based on a true story, it left everyone in the theatre with food for thought. It kind of made me realise how lucky I am to be even writing this review for you without anyone trying to deny me the basic human right of reading and writing and pursuing my chosen career path.
The role of Nojoom is wonderfully-acted by Reham Mohammed and seriously, if you get the chance to see her in action in this brilliant, brilliant film, you should take it. Here endeth the lecture. Now go forth and, um, do stuff.
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based performance poet, novelist, film blogger, sex blogger and short story writer. She has given more than 200 performances of her comedy sex-and-relationship poems in different venues around Dublin, including The Irish Writers’ Centre, The International Bar, Toners’ Pub (Ireland’s Most Literary Pub), the Ha’penny Inn, Le Dernier Paradis at the Trinity Inn and The Strokestown Poetry Festival.
Her articles, short stories and poems have appeared in The Metro-Herald newspaper, Ireland’s Big Issues magazine, The Irish Daily Star, The Irish Daily Sun and The Boyne Berries literary journal. In August 2014, she won the ONE LOVELY BLOG award for her (lovely!) horror film review blog. She is addicted to buying books and has been known to bring home rain-washed tomes she finds on the street and give them a home.
She is the proud possessor of a pair of unfeasibly large bosoms. They have given her- and the people around her- infinite pleasure over the years. She adores the horror genre in all its forms and will swap you anything you like for Hammer Horror or JAWS memorabilia. She would also be a great person to chat to about the differences between the Director’s Cut and the Theatrical Cut of The Wicker Man. You can contact her at:
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2) A WRITER’S JOURNEY
3) ANNA MEETS COUNT DRACULA
4) ANOTHER FIFTY REALLY RANDOM HORROR FILM REVIEWS TO DIE FOR…
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